Snuggled on your couch, cozy in leggings and an old sweatshirt, messy hair don’t care, podcast streaming, just type type typing away on your laptop. Depending on what you think a workday should look like, this vision might seem like work from home heaven or a little too untethered for you to ever be productive.
But working from home is increasingly a reality for a lot of people. Whether you work from home all the time, part-time, or have the option to do so occasionally, you want to make sure that you have the best day’s work in your home office – or from your couch – that you can.
How to work from home…the right way
At best, working from home can be a dream – no commute, no need to wear dress pants, and a bit more flexibility in your work day. At worst, it can mean some unique work-life stress – maybe you have an important deadline while home with a sick baby, or you find it hard to stay motivated, or your work hours are bleeding into your non-work hours. Read on for tips on how to have not just a productive day working from home, but a happy one too.
Structure your day in a way that works for you, but keep a regular schedule
For a lot of folks who work from home, one of the benefits is that if something comes up – an accelerated deadline or a plumber who needs to visit – being able to work around those needs can be immensely convenient. But you’ll probably find that your workdays are most productive if these sort of surprises remain an exception and not the norm.
And when you’re not walking out an office door at clock-out time, it can be plenty easy to send one more email or make one more phone. Sometimes this sort of flexibility and convenience can be valuable. And, sure, some people do need to be available after hours, but… do you really? If not, start and end your work day at set times – then really log off, hang up, and “clock-out” when your work day is over. If you keep a regular schedule in this way, it can help you stay focused on completing work tasks during work hours and not let “work” hours bleed over into “non-work” hours in a way that can make you feel like you don’t ever really stop working.
Let transitions help you out
Something that can help you keep regular hours? Have clear transitions to start and end your day. If working from home means actually working from your home – versus a coffee shop or a library or a shared work space – you may also want to do something that makes for a clear physical way to start and end your day. Maybe when you start your work day you move your laptop to your desk and sit down with a fresh cup of coffee and you when you end your work day you take a short walk outside.
Work when you’re most productive
Do you love tackling your hardest tasks first thing in the morning or do your best work after noon? You know yourself best, so plan accordingly. The flip side of this? You should also plan to do the sort of work that’s less challenging for you during the times when you feel like you’re not working at peak performance. So that might mean you tackle a bunch of quick and easy emails at the end of day when you’re close to quitting time and your focus doesn’t feel like it’s your best. Know thyself, and plan accordingly.
Dress for success
What do you need to wear to feel your best when working from home? For some people that’s leggings, sweats, and lounge wear – comfort reigns supreme. For others, it might mean something a little more formal. And for many people who make a habit of videoconferencing, often the look of choice is business on the top – something appropriate for colleagues to see you in – and casual on the bottom – something comfy that you wouldn’t necessarily wear out of the house. Whatever makes you feel your best – comfortable, yes, but also ready to be productive – should guide you. And we don’t recommend that you just roll out of bed and jump right into work, even if you might be inclined to do so. Dressing for the work day can help you trick yourself into knowing it’s time for work, even if you’ll be doing so from the comfort of your couch. Also helpful with this transition? A shower, brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing your hair – all of these actions also clue you into knowing that it’s time to get down to business.
Know your weak spots and plan accordingly
If you’re a strong-willed soul who can power through their work (from home) day without paying heed to any number of distractions, good for you. For the rest of us, it’s helpful to know our individual weak spots and then plan around them. If when you work from home you find that you tend to get sucked down social media rabbit holes, or crawl into bed with your laptop but then start to feel sleepy, or save your hardest tasks until the end of the day but then aren’t motivated to actually tackle them then, well, you may want to make some alternate arrangements. So maybe you use website- or app-blocking tools during work hours, only work at a desk, or tackle your hardest task first – whatever will set you up for success.
Look ahead and look back – plan your tasks ahead of time and acknowledge your wins
One super simple thing that really makes for a productive day? Knowing what you plan to work on! Whether you use a simple handwritten to-do list or a fancy app, plan what’ll you work on ahead of time so you know how to spend your day. Something else that’s super encouraging? Ending the day by not just checking those items off your to-do list, but also really pausing to take stock of what you’re accomplished. You might even want to make a short list end of day or end of week to note a few things you’ve accomplished and are particularly proud of. Celebrating your wins – especially when there are no colleagues around to share a celebratory high-five with – can help you stay motivated to keep doing great work.
Take a break and be sure to step away from your screens
Without the usual distractions that might break up your day if working with colleagues – visiting a coworker’s desk to ask a question, getting coffee with team member, a meeting – it can be plenty easy to just keep your head down and barrel along, and before you know it the day is over and you’ve been sitting at your desk for most of it. So be sure to take regular breaks for all the usual stuff, like meals, the bathroom, another cup of coffee – or to do things that are a bit easier to do at home – like taking a minute wash your breakfast dishes or water plants or just stare out the window and watch the clouds. Some people also find it helpful to build break time right into their day, like listening to a podcast or album while working, and at the end getting up to stretch. Or putting on a load of laundry after answering a batch of emails. Or taking a midday break to prepare nice lunch, or take the dog for a walk, or do fifteen minutes of dinner prep. You know what sort of activities will feel like a much-needed break and what will feel like you’re wandering into procrastinating with chores territory, so do what’s best for you. And if you do prefer to power through, at the very least give your eyes a break from your computer screen every so often by following the 20-20-20 rule, in which you look away from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. What’s even better – and great to do in the privacy of your home? Don’t just rest of your eyes, but get up and stretch your body too.
Stay connected to people and don’t forget to plan for facetime
Working from home can be great, but it can also get lonely. So it can be helpful to occasionally get out of the house and see other signs of human life, just to help you stay connected. Maybe spend a few days or even just a few hours here and there working at a library, a coffee shop, a shared work space or the like just to get out in the world and break up your usual solo work time. And make sure that you regularly connect with the people you actually work with too. Let team members know you can be reached and are accessible. Keep in close contact with your managers and coworkers, whether by email, phone, or Slack so people know what you’re working on and you stay abreast of work happenings – you’ll want to stay involved (even if remotely), have all your good work acknowledged, and feel good about staying in the loop. And if you work relatively close to the rest of your team (and not, say, across the country), it can also be meaningful to connect in person once in a while – so make regular plans to swing by the office or meet for coffee or lunch. It can even be meaningful to connect more widely with people in your industry by maintaining a professional network through sites like LinkedIn or industry organizations. So even if you regularly feel like you work on your own little island and like it that way, do make occasional trips to the mainland to connect.
Set your space up for success
A designated work space can be really beneficial so when sitting down in your office or at your desk you’ll be cued to know it’s time to work. If you don’t have that sort of a work space, even something as simple as working at a tidy table, having the supplies you need close at hand, or hanging an inspirational image nearby can help you get in the zone. And since many of us are able to work from home thanks to modern technology, be sure to get the tech you need to succeed. Do you spend a lot of the day on the phone? Maybe a hands-free headset would make your work day a whole lot better. Maybe some nice wireless speakers, or new headphones, or a larger monitor would do that. Sometimes all you need is a laptop, a table, and chair. But if you would benefit from even a few extra goodies, do what you can to set up a space that helps you feel motivated to get stuff done.
Set boundaries for everyone, yourself included
If you work from home with other people there – parents, a partner, kids, a babysitter – setting clear expectations is key. Letting everyone know when and the ways in which you’re available and not available – especially if you have little ones – will help keep your work day on track. Physical boundaries can be important too – like an office that is off limits to other people while you’re working and are a clear cue for, say, kiddos that you’re busy. And you’ll also want to be clear about just what you can do when home, as much for yourself as anyone else. Can you eat lunch with your kids and the babysitter but can’t put the baby down for a nap? You’ll know what feels like the right balance and what just won’t allow you to be productive. So once you have a plan, make sure that’s communicated clearly with everyone – from your partner to your babysitter to your toddler.
Work in a way that works for you
Everyone’s work from home reality is different, and what works for one person might not work for another, but hopefully these tips can help you create a work from home routine that really works for you.